In today’s Gospel, Jesus wants to teach us that those we labelled sinners are making their way into heaven while the so-called “religious” are not. In a deceptive simple parable, Jesus brought this message home to his audience with a parable of the two sons. In this parable of the two sons we have it that, “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. “And he went to the second and said the same, and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first” (Matt.21:28-30).
With this answer, Jesus now reveals the supernatural significance of the lesson. “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him” (Matt.21:31-32). John the Baptist preached repentance to prepare his fellow Jews for the new kingdom of God. The tax collectors and harlots listened to his preaching and followed it.
Most of them became Christ followers. But the priests and elders did not listen to John, not even after they saw the conversion of public sinners. They were, therefore, condemning themselves in condemning the second son. Like him, they pretended to be fully interested in their Father’s business, but in practice they did their own will. Whereas the first son, refused to do his father’s will he later realized how wrong this was and set about obeying. He represented the public sinners and the Gentiles. The two groups represented by the two sons in this parable are imperfect. Those who regretted their refusal and then later came to do the work spoiled their good work, by the awfully gracious way they did it. But it is far nobler to change one’s mind and do good than to remain set in the direction of evil perpetually.
It is said that action speaks louder than words. The ideal way is both to promise and to do, and not only doing but doing it graciously. The good Christian must always accept God’s injunctions and carry them out fully. We should not take neither the Pharisees nor the tax collectors and prostitutes as our model, rather, Christ should be our model who obey and do his Father’s will. The first reading teaches us the same lesson that our salvation depends on the cultivation of what is inside us. It is our personal responsibility and we must be ready to bear the consequences of our choices. Prophet Ezekiel’s generation felt that their troubles (the fall of their nation and their exile into Babylon) were a punishment for the sins of others, usually their ancestors.
Ezekiel says that is not true. God does not judge people for the sins of their ancestors; he judges people on account of their own merits or lack of it. Everyone must account for his or her sins. Even in our own age, people blame others for their sins. Teachers blame their students for their poor results and students also blame their teachers for the same reason. Parents blame their children and children blame their parents. Husband blame their wife and wife blame their husband. Some complain that life has not been fair to them and in the process they blame God for being unfair to them.
Ezekiel rejects every form of excuses making us to realize that we are responsible for our actions and be ready to bear the consequences of our actions. In the second reading, St. Paul emphasizes how Jesus revealed his love for us through obedience. “And being found in human form he (Christ) humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil.2:7-8). Christ obeyed out of love. This is the Christian meaning of obedience: that which we owe God, that which we give to our parents and those in authority over us. God does not want to be obeyed by slaves or by robots. God wants to be served by his sons and daughters.
He desires a willing and cheerful obedience that comes from the heart. Christ must be our model of obedience. Christ’s obedience was not a matter of mere submission to the Will of the Father. Christ became obedience itself. He became perfectly united to the plans of the Father for the salvation of the human race. Christ practiced an active obedience. The important lessons from our readings today beginning with the Gospel is that we must never make assumptions about whom the Lord will accept or reject. There can be so much good in those we consider evil and so much evil in those we consider good.
The tax collectors, prostitutes, garage boys, street urchins, prisoners and all those we see as odd assortment of degeneration are finding their way to heaven through a sincere act of conversion. In the first reading Ezekiel speaks of spiritual dead for the righteous when they turn to evil and God’s mercy for the wicked when they repent from their sins. No matter the number of the sins you have committed, Jesus is calling you and telling you that he came for sinners and he will cleanse you from your sins. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, “just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.” We may come to church every day, recite the rosary even the whole mysteries and follow the Stations of the Cross and observe other devotions, but, if there is no sincere act of conversion, we are out of the track.
May God grant us the grace to emulate our Lord Jesus Christ in always obeying and doing God’s Will always through Christ our Lord. Amen. May God bring a lasting solution to the Coronavirus pandemic ravaging the whole world, heal completely those who have contracted it, guide and protect our health workers from contracting it and heal completely those amongst them who have contracted it, endow our medical experts and scientists with wisdom and knowledge to discover the cure for this disease, grant eternal rest to those who have died through this pandemic, console their families and loved ones and above all bring us closer to Him through Christ our Lord. Amen. Wishing you a happy Sunday and a fruitful week ahead.